Quarrying was Hastings’ first industry. Over a decade before small, water-powered mills appeared in the ravine near the river, white dolomite limestone, or marble, was being cut from an outcropping in the as yet un-named Village of Hastings and sold for construction material. Indeed, the first western notice of what was to become Hastings-on-Hudson probably came in 1680 when a Dutch traveler sailing on the Hudson wrote of seeing “beautiful hard stone as white and as clean as I have ever seen”. Westchester would become known for its marble quarries. Stone from Ossining and Tuckahoe was prized, but Hastings marble was in a category all its own. The architect of the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan (built between 1852 and 1854) wrote that he chose Hastings stone because its “whiteness” was “in stark contrast with the darker stone in more general use.”
Hastings’ first quarryman was Van Brugh Livingston, who began cutting and selling the stone in the Quarry in 1828. Over the years, the buying, selling, sub-letting, and leasing of the Quarry took a number of curious turns, but here are some highlights. In 1834, Livingston sold 15 acres including the Quarry and a river wharf to an English watercolorist and amateur architect named George Harvey, who is best remembered as a friend of Washington Irving who played a key role in the design and construction of Irving’s home, Sunnyside. Harvey also built a fanciful “castle” with a marble stable out of stone from his new Quarry, but otherwise left the running of the Quarry to others.
Elisha Bloomer, a New York hat maker, leased the Quarry from Harvey in 1835 for $250 a year and built an inclined railway straight down to the Hastings wharf, where the rough stone could be cut into manageable sizes, loaded onto sloops and shipped to projects all along the east coast. The railroad’s path, with its fine Hudson River views, was reclaimed by the Village as the Quarry Trail in 2017 and it serves as a footpath connecting the waterfront, Warburton Avenue, the Old Croton Aqueduct and the new Quarry Park.
In 1838, Harvey sold a narrow strip of land along the west side of the Quarry to the City of New York for the construction of the Croton Aqueduct with the provision that a tunnel be built so that the railway could pass under. Designed by John Jervis, the tunnel was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 along with the rest of the Aqueduct. When Warburton Avenue was expanded, later in the century, a similar tunnel was built under it.
The success of the Quarry is suggested by the fact that Bloomer was able to sub-let the Quarry for as much as $11,000 a year. Marble Greek-revival columns were at the height of architectural fashion, and Hastings marble was being used all along the eastern seaboard. In Charleston, South Carolina, it was used for the Custom House and in Richmond, Virginia, for the Court House. A number of local houses, including portions of Lyndhurst, as well as several prominent Hastings landmarks such as Flo Zeigfeld’s house (formerly on the Burke Estate), Lovat (on Amherst drive), the Longvue Restaurant (currently the site of the Andrus Retirement Home), Oakledge (on South Broadway) and the Lewin-Martin-Read home (on High Street) are all believed to be made from the Quarry’s stone.
Harvey sold his Hastings property in 1846, and a series of owners bought and sold the property that was now being called The Hastings Marble Company. The Civil War dealt the marble business a serious blow. The architectural taste changed, and in 1870, John William Draper, whose property, including what is now Draper Park, ran along the eastern edge of the Quarry, won a court injunction putting an end to blasting in the Quarry. It was dangerous, he argued, and it disturbed the scientific instruments in his son’s astronomical observatory. In 1899, the now abandoned Quarry—which had filled with spring water—and the railway were sold to National Conduit, a forerunner of Anaconda Wire and Cable. The company wanted the clean water in the Quarry for use as a coolant and laid a pipeline down the route of the old railway to its new waterfront factory.
The Quarry’s brief Golden Age began in 1936 when Dr. Arthur G. Langmuir, a chemical engineer and master photographer who lived in Oakledge, a stone house on the former Draper estate, bought the property and, together with his wife, Alice, set about transforming the Quarry into a richly landscaped park and bird sanctuary, complete with soaring cliffs 150 feet high, a pristine lake 35 feet deep, two thousand newly planted trees, one thousand rose bushes and eight hundred shrubs. Inspired by Buttes Chaumont, a famous Parisian park that had once been an abandoned stone quarry, they built gravel paths, sweeping stone stairways and benches overlooking vistas of the Palisades and Hudson River and even installed a rowboat called the Queen Mary.
The Hastings Quarry Park was often the subject of articles in the local press. During 1936, the Herald Statesman and the New York Evening Post carried headlines such as, “Langmuir to Develop Park for Hastings,” and “Hastings to Get Quarry Park as Eventual Gift From Owner,” and “County’s First Quarry Park to be Developed in Hastings.”
When work on the Langmuirs’ “Quarry Park,” as they named it, was completed, they offered it as a gift first to the Boyce Thompson Institute (a horticultural research center) in Yonkers and then to the Village of Hastings, but the offers were rejected. Arthur Langmuir died in 1941 and Alice died two years later. The Quarry was willed to Andrew
Ryan, the Langmuir’s chief gardener, who had overseen its landscaping, and who, in turn, sold it, in 1950, to a corporation that planned to build an apartment building and a private house on the site. But that proved to be impossible and in 1964 it was bought by the Village to be used, for the next twenty years, as a public “bulk household disposal site.”
In 1977, the Village Conservation commission recommended that the Quarry be converted into a park, “once its capacity for refuse has been reached.” The Quarry was closed to public refuse in 1981 but continued to be used by the Department of Public Works for depositing inorganic and organic materials picked up in the Village by the Department. In response to the requests of local residents, the Board of Trustees closed the Quarry to all dumping in June 2002, a significant first step towards community efforts to reclaim the still imposing site.
The more recent history of the Quarry is quite arresting. This true cold war era story starts with Daniel Ellsberg, famous for his release of the Pentagon Papers, who was in hiding from the FBI after leaking the papers to the New York Times and the Washington Post (as detailed in the recent movie, “The Post”). Ellsberg had turned over for safekeeping a box of secret government papers pertaining to US 1950’s and 1960’s nuclear war strategy (purloined when he had worked for the government on these very issues) to his brother, Harry, who lived in Hastings, and who buried it in the compost pile in his back yard.
When neighbors reported what they believed were FBI agents poking around the backyard, Harry promptly moved it to the Village dump, then located at the Quarry, and buried it there near an abandoned metal stove which he hoped to use as a marker. In an unlikely twist, Tropical Storm Doria hit shortly after and part of the bluff looming over the location where the papers were buried fell in and the stove went tumbling. Harry spent weeks digging through the dump trying to locate the papers, even renting a backhoe and surreptitiously operating it in a frantic attempt to dig up the lost documents. Ellsberg detailed the story in his 2018 book, “The Doomsday Machine” about these very papers and the work behind them, and adding a chapter to the history of the cold war and to the storied history of the Quarry.
Newly Completed Park